Parenting

A Child’s Imaginary Friend: Is It Always Safe?

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Many kids grow up with an imaginary friend. Sometimes, there might even be more. However, parents should also be discerning about this. When is the time to intervene?

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The presence of an imaginary friend has been a part of the development of social intelligence. But is it always safe?

Having an Imaginary Friend

Children grow up in a make-believe world. They love to make up stories involving their toys and the characters in their favorite shows. These are all part of creative play.

To reinforce their creativity, they sometimes conjure an imaginary friend. They even wear costumes to go with the scenario. This friend has a personality, too, and together, they often go on adventures. Sometimes, this “unseen” friend also joins in play dates with other kids.

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An imaginary friend can also be a toy.

Psychologists agree that the presence of imaginary friends should not be a concern. However, they still cannot understand why children create these characters. This was revealed by Celeste Kidd, a professor of psychology at UC Berkeley who studies learning throughout early development. “For the most part, there’s no widespread consensus on what triggers it,” she said. However, psychologists widely believe that it’s a normative part of development.

While it’s not a measure of intelligence, imaginary friends are a symptom of developing social intelligence. The kids are aware of the distinctions between personalities, something that starts to emerge when the child reaches at least four years old.

The Eldest or the Only Child

Usually, the eldest child creates the imaginary friend for lack of a playmate or a sibling. A lot of times, they would outgrow this phase upon the arrival of a brother or a sister.

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Bing Bong, the girl Riley’s imaginary friend in the movie Inside Out.

Meanwhile, the only child is prone to have one because of boredom or loneliness. The imaginary friend is always with them whenever and wherever. Plus, they get to control the personalities and the conversations that occur between them. Their situations are either whimsical, fantastical, or extraordinary.

The only limit is the child’s imagination.

Our Daughter’s Story

When our eldest Shawna was four years old, she was still an only child back then. It was the end of the year and my husband’s side of the family decided on a road trip.

We were having a Christmas party at an uncle’s house when everyone decided to go to Dumaguete City. This is in the province of Negros Oriental and would take about a six-hour drive. During the road trip, we passed by many rice and sugarcane plantations, hills, villages, and even seas.

At one point of the ride, we passed by a residential area surrounded by lush trees and shrubbery. We were at the back seat when Shawna waved. Thankfully, I was awake. When I looked out, there was nobody there. So I said, “I don’t see anybody, babe.” My daughter answered, “He’s here.” Pointing to the little space beside me. It was like she’s telling me that whoever she waved to is now riding with us.

I felt goosebumps rising on my skin.

But that incident was soon forgotten when we got to our destination and enjoyed the New Year’s party. Most of the time though, I felt sick, especially if we got on the car and moved around. My tummy would just settle if I pop an antacid. That continued until after we got back to Bacolod City four days later.

It was then I learned that I was actually pregnant with Shane.

Company During Playtime

Since I am a work at home mom with no baby sitter, I take care of Shawna. I set her schedule, from her morning kinder classes at Bright Kids Preschool to her afternoon play.

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Knowing when to intervene with your child’s imaginary friendship.

Most of the time, I am her playmate. After all, we were the only ones left in our bedroom most of the time.

After that trip, Shawna started playing with her imaginary friend after school. She told me that his name was Chupa and he’s a little boy.

I didn’t stop Shawna from playing. However, I did try to observe their interactions because of the little voice at the back of my mind.

Warning Signals

You see, warning bells rang in my head when Shawna told me that his name was Chupa. Knowing about the legendary chupacabra of the Puerto Ricans made me feel uneasy that the friend is named such.

I also remembered the goosebumps I felt when we seemed to have picked up Chupa from our road trip. It was eerie.

The so-called friendship went on for several weeks. While I was working online on my computer, I would hear Shawna have conversations with the imaginary friend. She was on the bed or the floor most of the time, while I was on my desk. I could keep an eye on her and hear her talking.

I just kept observing.

Time for Action

One afternoon, however, Shawna was agitated. She was clearly upset while playing with her imaginary friend. Then she shouted, “I said, ‘STOP!’” And then growled, indicating that she was angry.

That was when I felt that something was really wrong. This may not exactly be an imaginary friend. There may be spiritual battle here. I don’t think that a child would think up of an imaginary friend and create a scenario where she will get upset. The friend is supposed to give her companionship, not stir up bad feelings.

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Maybe Chupa is like the impatient imaginary friend drawn by MrJonesey.com. Or it was really doing something that’s irritating to Shawna.

We are a bible-believing Christian family and we know that bad spirits roam amongst us. Sometimes, we see them or even feel them.

I immediately prayed for wisdom and guidance from God, asking Him what to do. Since I was the only parent alone with her, I prayed for Shawna’s protection. Moreover, I prayed for this friend to leave her alone as well as our home.

That’s hands-on parenting in spiritual action.

Proof That I Did the Right Thing

After that prayer, I hugged Shawna and that maternal instinct crept in. I felt a sense of relief sweep over me. The eerie feeling was gone.

And the proof that I was right? Our daughter has never played with that particular imaginary friend ever again. Sure, she still plays pretend. She uses her toys and assigns personalities to them. Additionally, she creates scripts for all of them that would fit her scenario. They even have different voices and accents. But they never fight.

But at least, I now “see” her playmates, which are her toys.

And since I spend time with my daughter, I know her preferences and quirks. That experience with the imaginary friend was something out of the ordinary.

The Arrival of a Sister

A few months after that experience, our second daughter Shane was born.

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Shawna, now 10, and Shane, 6.

Now, Shawna has her sister Shane to study, play, and bicker with. These keep her busy while we are homeschooling.

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Play date with their childhood friend Yanna at Dave’s Fun House at Robinsons Place Bacolod.

We also spend time for play dates with friends. Usually, these children are also being homeschooled so we can take off any day of the week. We just find a common time to go out or visit somebody’s home.

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With BFF Cody at the Iloilo port.

Most of the time, they visit their BFF Cody’s house. Then they keep him annoyed with their bickering. haha

No more imaginary friends, just pretend play with toys.

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3 thoughts on “A Child’s Imaginary Friend: Is It Always Safe?

  1. I think it’s fine to an extent to have an imaginary friend but I’ve seen too many horror films where the kid finds an imaginary ghost friend to ever feel 100% okay with it. I had an imaginary friend growing up but it wasn’t sinister, I was just lonely and had a vivid imagination.

  2. Interesting story! As most children have imaginary friends, it’s important to know when to intervene or when the help of a professional is needed. Parenting can really be a tricky balance. We don’t really have a manual so we need to observe and ask questions.

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